Offaly exited the O’Byrne Cup at the semi-final stage against Kildare on Sunday but it was a game the Faithful County could easily have won.
O’Byrne Cup semi-final
In 2012 Offaly suffered two comprehensive defeats at the hands of Kildare but last Sunday in Connor Park they showed they have significantly closed the gap.
Over the 70 minutes there was little to chose between Division 4 side Offaly and Division 1 side Kildare and had the home side taken their chances, they could easily have come away with the win.
Trailing by three points late in the game Offaly had a guilt edged chanced to at least force extra time but after substitute Paul McPadden was fouled, Niall McNamee put his penalty wide of the left hand post. That was one of three goal chance Offaly had in the second half but unfortunately none found the back of the net as a much hyped Kildare side barely held on for the win and they now face Dublin in the final next Saturday.
Seanie Johnston was the saviour for Kildare as he kicked seven points in total including four in the second-half as his side overcame the sending off of Mikey Conway midway through the second-half. The former Cavan player was the pick of the Kildare forwards with only one other of the attacking players scoring over the course of the 70 minutes.
While Offaly will be disappointed with the defeat, they can take huge confidence from the performance and the manner in which they approached the game. From start to finish Offaly showed great tenacity putting pressure on the ball from their full forward line all the to the full back line. They worked incredibly hard and it was encouraging to see how they matched Kildare in both fitness and strength.
Defensively Offaly played as a very cohesive unit and apart from Seanie Johnston, the Kildare forwards were anonymous for almost the entire game.
The movement of Niall McNamee and Anton Sullivan caused great difficulties for the Kildare defence forcing Kieran McGeeney to drop an extra defender back in front of McNamee to curb his attacking threat.
One area where Emmett McDonnell will be looking for his side to improve is when it comes to winning primary possession. Kildare won more than their fair share of breaking balls in midfield although that is something that Offaly can rectify quickly ahead of their upcoming league campaign.
In front of an impressive crowd of 3,400, Offaly made the dream start to the game against a strong Kildare side starting 10 of the players who featured in the All Ireland quarter final in 2012.
Excellent play from Niall McNamee and Brian Connor opened up the Kildare defence with Connor playing a perfectly timed pass to Eoin Carroll and the young man from Cappincur made no mistake with a powerful finish to the back of the net after just two minutes.
McNamee added a point from a free before Seanie Johnston opened Kildare’s account with a free after six minutes. McNamee and Johnston exchanged points before a free from Ross Brady put Offaly 1-3 to 0-2 up after 18 minutes.
At this stage Offaly were well in control with Kildare looking bereft of attacking ideas however the Lilywhites were handed a route back into the game when Mikey Conway struck a penalty to the back of the net after 28 minutes. A point from Seanie Johnston got the visitors back on level terms and a point apiece for former St Mary’s Edenderry team-mates Anton Sullivan (Offaly) and Eoghan O’Flaherty (Kildare) meant the sides went to the break locked at 1-4 apiece.
Offaly were out early for the second-half and were forced to wait for Kildare to return and the extra time in the dressing room seemed to help Kildare as they came out stronger with points from Cathal McNally and Seanie Johnston put them into the lead for the first time in the game.
Niall McNamee and Eoghan O’Flaherty exchanged points before back to back points from Niall McNamee got Offaly back on level terms.
Offaly came very close to taking the lead when a high ball from distance from impressive substitute Peter Cunningham somehow hit the underside of the crossbar but somehow Kildare managed to scramble the ball clear.
With the sides locked on 1-7 apiece, Kildare were reduced to 14 men when Mikey Conway was shown a second yellow card for a sliding tackle on Niall McNamee but they responded well with a brace of points from marksman Seanie Johnston.
Peter Cunningham and Emmett Bolton exchanged points before Derek Kelly got Offaly back within one and the game was very much back in the balance. Kildare however made a decisive break with points from Padraig O’Neill and Seanie Johnston to leave the score at 1-12 to 1-9.
Offaly had a chance to force extra-time when Paul McPadden was hauled down but Niall McNamee’s penalty went wide.
They had one half chance after that when Brian Connor got possession 14 metres from the Kildare goal but his shot was bravely blocked and with that Offaly’s chance was gone.
Offaly: Alan Mulhall; Sean Pender, Shane Sullivan, Paul McConway; David Hanlon, Brian Darby, Derek Kelly (0-1); Alan McNamee, Ross Brady (0-1f); Graham Guilfoyle, Brian Connor, Eoin Carroll (1-0); Matthew Mitchell, Niall McNamee (0-5, 0-4f), Anton Sullivan (0-1). Subs: Peter Cunningham (0-1) for Matthew Mitchell (40mins); Eoin Rigney for Paul McConway (42mins); Paul McPadden for Eoin Carroll (64mins); Mark Young for Alan McNamee (66mins).
Kildare: Shane Connolly; Ollie Lyons, Michael Foley, Hugh McGrillen; Emmet Bolton (0-1), Mikey Conway (1-0 pen), Eoghan O’Flaherty (0-2); Gary White, Padraig O’Neill 0-1; Brian Flanagan, Cathal McNally (0-1), Morgan O’Flaherty; Sean Johnston (0-7, 0-3f), Tomás O’Connor, Daniel Flynn. Subs: Jonathan Byrne for McNally (52mins); Robert Kelly for E O’Flaherty (60mins) Paddy Brophy for O’Connor (65mins); Ronan Sweeney for Bolton (70mins). .
Referee: Joe Curley (Meath)